General Confederation of Labour (Portugal)

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The General Confederation of Labour (Portuguese: Confederação Geral do Trabalho, or CGT) is a former Portuguese labour union confederation.

Post-war period[edit]

The General Confederation of Labour had its roots in the National Workers' Union (UON) and was founded on 13 September 1919. It was the only Portuguese trade union at the time.

It was greatly influenced by the anarcho-syndicalist movement. According to its statutes, its three goals were:

  • the unification of all workers of the country to defend their "economic, social and professional interests, as well as to improve their moral, material and physical condition"
  • to develop the skills within the working class necessary to overthrow capitalism
  • to exercise the concept of mutual help

The highest decision-making organ in the CGT was the confederation council, a national congress of representatives, which in turn elected seven members that formed the national committee to handle day-to-day matters. Some anarcho-syndicalists and the Communist Party called for the creation of a body to administer the economy after power had been seized. The organizational structure hardly differed from that of the UON. The main ideological difference was the distance it maintained to the Portuguese Socialist Party. The CGT's daily newspaper was called A Batalha. In 1922 the union became officially recognized and joined the International Workers Association (IWA).

Estimates on the membership of the CGT differ greatly. The union itself claimed a membership of about 150,000 from 1919 to 1922 and a steady decrease to 50,000 by 1927. Other estimates claim the membership never even exceeded 100,000 and even shrank to 80,000 by 1922. The membership is considerable nonetheless as Portugal boasted only a few hundred thousand industrial workers and artisans at the time.

From 1922 onwards membership fell considerably, despite militancy in the working class remaining constant. The phenomenon is likely the result of political bickering within the organization. Accordingly, the Communist Party withdrew all unions associated with it from the CGT in 1924 and established its own trade union federation in 1925. The CGT became increasingly concentrated in the industrial centers Lisbon/Setúbal/Barreiro, Porto/Braga, and Covilhã. At the same time, actions by the union lost in efficiency, its structure became increasingly hierarchical, and repression by the state and business became more commonplace. Likewise, the circulation of A Batalha sank from 25,000 in 1919/1920 to 10,000 in 1925. In 1922, it was decided that non-union organizations could join the CGT as well.

Ditadura Nacional and Estado Novo[edit]

After the 28th May 1926 coup d'état, the labour movement suffered great repression and the General Confederation of Labour would be dismantled. In 1927, it attempted a general strike against the government, which failed and led to 100 dead, the deportation of about 600 individuals involved in the conflicts to overseas territories, and the banning of the CGT, A Batalha, numerous individual trade unions, and the May Day demonstrations.

At first, the confederation council and the national committee continued their work in secret, publishing a regular Information Bulletin, but on 2 November 1927, an assault by the government, which included arrests and attacks on suspected union offices by the police, further restricted union activity. The CGT continued to exist nonetheless. In 1929, it was even able to regain legality in a judicial battle, which it retained until 23 September 1933, when two government decrees banned all non-state-controlled trade unions. A general strike by the CGT and other organizations called for on 18 January 1934 failed. The illegal activities by the CGT were then limited to Lisbon and the Algarve. In 1938, Emídio Santana, the secretary-general of the federation, took part in a failed assassination attempt on Salazar. The ensuing repression killed off the CGT completely.


  • "1922-today: The International Workers Association". People's History. Retrieved 2006-06-26. 
  • Bayerlein, Bernhard; van der Linden, Marcel (1990). "Revolutionary Syndicalism in Portugal". In van der Linden, Marcel; Thorpe, Wayne. Revolutionary Syndicalism: an International Perspective. Aldershot: Scolar Press. pp. 155–166. ISBN 0-85967-815-6.